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Tammy Duckworth Defeats Mark Kirk To Win Senate Seat

By Stephen Gossett in News on Nov 9, 2016 2:11AM

U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (IL-8th)

Current, two-term U.S. Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth (IL-8) has defeated incumbent Sen. Mark Kirk for the United States Senate, according to media reports.

Along with Sen. Ron Johnson’s seat in Wisconsin, the Illinois seat was considered the most vulnerable of Republican-held offices up for election heading into Tuesday. That made it more or less a must-win for Democrats if they hoped to take control of the Senate and potentially extinguish the battle of confirming a Supreme Court Justice now and, possibly, in the future. (Twenty-four of the 34 Senate seats up for election on Tuesday were Republican held.) Dems need to gain only five seats in order to flip the Senate majority in their favor.

Kirk notified his supporters at around 8:15 p.m. that he had called Duckworth to concede. "I ran for Congress to make a difference. I ran to be an advocate for Illinois," said in his concession speech.

"Lets celebrate living in the best country in the world," he added.

Duckworth, in her speech, spoke of the importance of the safety net, veteran's rights and economic justice, and she congratulated Kirk for his Senate run and for being a model of recovery. "Thank you for putting your faith in me," she said. "It will not be misplaced."

"Tonight, we showed a campaign that respects the voters and is focused on practical solutions rather than shopworn slogans can be successful. We showed that a relentless focus on rebuilding Illinois' middle class and respecting hard work rather than wealth can be successful, too," Duckworth said.

Reports of the victory started to come in only a few minutes after polls closed in Illinois, just after 7 p.m. "I'm surprised it took this long," Illinois State Treasurer Mike Frerichs told Chicagoist. "Duckworth ran a great race, and she'll be very helpful for the state and country in the U.S. Senate."

"I'm very excited for her and for the state," he added.

SEIU Healthcare Illinois President Keith Kelleher praised the win. “As the healthcare union that represents caregivers to people with disabilities, it makes us especially proud to welcome Tammy Duckworth as our next U.S. senator," Kelleher said in a statement. "We know Tammy’s work will be much broader and she will be a fierce champion for the economic security of ALL Illinoisans, but having someone who understands the issues particular to our workforce and our consumers is historic"

Environmental groups joined the chorus, as well. "As a Member of Congress, Tammy Duckworth had a stellar environmental record," said Kevin Curtis, executive director of the NRDC Action Fund, in a statement. "In voting for her, the people of Illinois were casting a vote for climate action and protecting our air, lands and waters. As an experienced legislator, Tammy Duckworth will be able to push for environmental safeguards from her first day in the Senate.”

And campaign finance reform group End Citizens United cheered the win on Tuesday night. "She'll help overturn Citizens United and push to make elections more accessible to middle-class Americans," said Executive Director Tiffany Muller in a statement. "We are excited to work alongside her as she continues to be an active voice against the corroding influence of unlimited, undisclosed money in politics."

Democracy for America and the American Federation of Teachers voiced support, as well, among other organizations.

Kirk faced a decidedly steep climb in the race, in both the long term and short. This being a presidential-election cycle (perhaps you noticed), voter turnout was bound to be higher than in 2010, when Kirk won election—not good news for even a moderate Republican in a blue state such as Illinois. Duckworth led by as much as 13 points heading into Tuesday, according to RealClearPolitics.

Despite his disavowal of Donald Trump all the way back in June, Kirk, like all Republicans up for election this year, also had to contend with the down-ballot repercussions of Trump being on the top of the ticket. And fair or not, voters may also have had concerns about Kirk’s health after he suffered a major stroke in 2012.

Ever gaffe-able, Kirk of course did himself no favors when, less than two weeks out from Election Day, he called into question the service of Duckworth’s family with a racially charged comment about the Representative’s heritage. When Duckworth, who lost both legs while serving in Iraq, spoke at a debate about her family’s history of military service, Kirk glibly replied, "I had forgotten that your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington."

The comment cost him the support of both the LGBTQ-rights-focused Human Rights Campaign and the gun-control advocacy organization co-founded by former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. Both previously likely saw Kirk’s relative moderation as a means of demonstrating bipartisanship, despite Duckworth’s consistency on both issues.

Kirk later apologized for the comment. Duckworth accepted the apology, but at the final debate reminded voters about Kirk’s other controversial foot-in-mouth moments, including his “drug dealer in chief” line about President Barack Obama, in reference to the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal.

You know you’re in trouble when you feel compelled to explain, ““I am not a racist,” as Kirk did on Friday.

Taken all together, it proved too costly for the incumbent. Duckworth will soon switch chambers on the Hill, and Illinois’ blue streak now extends a bit further on the national level.

This post has been updated.